• Jamil Ahmud of Bloomsbury Law

Work

Law and order

Jamil Ahmud of Bloomsbury Law talks teamwork, tactics and why going to court should always be a last resort

Interview: Viel Richardson
Portrait: Joseph Fox

People often think that the word ‘litigation’ covers any case that takes place in court, but from a legal standpoint it has a far more specific meaning. Litigation is the field of law which relates to two parties resolving a dispute using a legal process, which has the potential to ultimately be tried before a judge. It could be a contract dispute, a negligence dispute, or a dispute about a debt. It is often referred to as ‘dispute resolution’.

When I started the practice it was purely a niche litigation practice. We have since evolved to cover all areas of law: employment, real estate, tax, property, personal injury, family law, immigration, and so on. I am head of commercial litigation and dispute resolution at the firm, but as managing partner I am also responsible for coordinating the running of the practice.

Team effort
It is really important to say that a successful practice is not all about superstar lawyers, it’s a real team effort. We have an excellent team of people here and practice manager Georgia Bevan is exceptional at keeping things running smoothly. She ensures that clients are directed to the correct people and that our customer care is maintained as we expand. It allows me to concentrate on my case load and step back to take a strategic overview of where the firm is going.

One of the most important things to get right is assigning the correct lawyer or lawyers to a client. Someone might call us looking for a divorce lawyer, but if they were born outside the EU their rights of residency may be affected by their marital status. It is more efficient, more cost-effective and less stressful to be given immigration advice and divorce advice by the same firm at the same time. It is what makes the initial consultation so important.

It might be strange to say, but I believe the biggest misconception about what we do is that lawyers are inherently expensive. This doesn’t have to be the case—but it will be if they end up pushing lots of unnecessary paperwork around and then charging that to the client.

Genuine value
This is one of the reasons we put so much effort into identifying the needs of the client very precisely, at a very early stage. The sooner you establish the requirements, the better job you will do at conducting the case efficiently—there is very little time wasted and genuine value in every correspondence.

Engaging lawyers in a dispute does not mean you will necessarily end up in court. In fact, I believe if you do go to court it represents a failure in some way on the part of the solicitor. The ideal solution is to find the settlement that is best for your client without going to court.

The litigation process will begin with contact between the two parties’ lawyers and only if they cannot come to an agreement will you end up in front of a judge. The client wants to win the case before it reaches this point, but not by coming to a settlement just for the sake of it. It needs to be right for the client.

Real law
For me, litigation is real law. Because you’re dealing with case law and statute, there is a great deal of knowledge, research and strategy involved. Which aspects of their case should you be challenging? At what point should you ask the pertinent questions? How can you avoid being manoeuvred onto the back foot? Can you find a weakness in their case to exploit?

For me the most successful outcome of litigation is demonstrating to the other client’s solicitors that if the case proceeds to trial, there is a high probability of them losing. You want to convince them to advise their client that it would be better for them to settle in your favour. For me, the mark of a successful litigation lawyer is getting your client the best possible deal at the cheapest possible price and without the involvement of a judge.

This is because there is real uncertainty about the outcome of a case when you go to court. Irrespective of the strength of your client’s case, once you’re in court there is an increased risk of things going against you. Clients may face very clever cross-examination which can make it appear as though they are fabricating evidence, even if they are telling the truth. Judges may take differing interpretations of the law, and even a strong case can be struck out on a procedural technicality.

This is why I think one of the main attributes you need as a litigation lawyer is tactical astuteness: the ability to be able to counter whatever challenges to your case your oponent throws at you. Sometimes it’s a case of knowing when to reach a settlement.

So for example, if a client approaches me and says, “This person owes me £300,000 and they’re offering £225,000”, a solicitor would be foolish not to give the offer serious consideration. You might find yourself losing the case, which would mean you’ve not only lost the £225,000 they were offering, but will also have to pay both teams’ legal costs.

In that case it is better to advise your client to settle. While it makes us less money, I feel it represents the best outcome for the client. The level of risk compared with potential benefit means it just wouldn’t make sense to take the risk.

A game of chess
Litigation is a real game of chess—it is one of the aspects I really enjoy. It is very much an art, where you need to anticipate what is coming next and constantly think, as the opposition bring up new questions regarding your client’s claim—all while trying to find weaknesses in theirs. Sometimes an idea will come to me suddenly—in the cinema, on a walk or watching television.

I had always wanted to be a lawyer. Even as a child I was fascinated by programmes showing cases being tried in a court of law. I still love what I do. What drives me is helping clients get the best possible outcome from a dispute. The disputes we deal with can be incredibly stressful for the people involved, and the cost implications can have very severe effects on their home life or business.

They often arrive here feeling very distressed and fearful. Helping them come out of the other side of the process with the best possible result, and at the lowest possible cost, is something the team and I get a great deal of satisfaction from.